The Last Station
It’s 1910 and the great Russian writer and aristocrat Leo Tolstoy (Christopher Plummer) has become a cult dissenting voice in Tsarist Russia. His writings and teachings on non violent resistance, state and property rights, chastity and vegetarianism are so fundamentally progressive and anarchic (albeit of the pacifist and Christian variety) that his long time publisher and friend Vladimir Chertov (Paul Giamatti) has established a small community of Tolstoyans to inherit and carry on the work of the ageing leader. Tolstoy’s wife Sofya (Helen Mirren) has other ideas.
There’s nothing like a tale of piety and inheritance to bring on the tedium. Luckily The Last Station, adapted from Jay Parini’s 1990 novel, is actually an all too universal tale of misplaced loyalties and how love, however ancient and eccentric, can offset the obsessions of old age. Our beloved Dame Mirren dominates proceedings as the passionate, neurotic, ever protective wife and wilted muse Sofya. She runs the film’s dynamo and when she is away from the screen the air grows heavy with conjecture and exposition. She’s the crazed firefly hovering over a gloomy pond of reverence and sanctity.
In fact it is easy to forget that our narrator and guide through this nest of misplaced godliness is Tolstoy’s newly arrived secretary Valentin Bulgakov, played with subtle reserve by James McAvoy. As exemplified in his flawed but interesting 1995 adaptation of Rose Tremain’s Restoration, director Michael Restless Natives Hoffman has a problem with character arcs and narrator progression, so distracted does he become by detail and flounce. As historical fiction this is a little bloodless but enjoyable enough, as a study of aged love and lust undermined by creeping agenda it is commendable, and a little overdue.